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Published:February 4th, 2010 10:49 EST

TV is Playing a Destructive Role in Society

By Djelloul (Del) Marbrook (Editor/Mentor)

My television is better without the sound. I like the faces, but I don`t like what they have to say, not to the left and not to the right. And as for the middle, I think it works better without sound. I don`t even like the subtitles of foreign movies.


We hear selectively anyway, so why not go all the way and just filter out the sound?

I first noticed my heightened hostility to sound when it became apparent to me that there was a big disconnect between what people were saying and how they looked while they were saying it. This has something to do, I`m sure, with the perceived necessity of television personalities to act cute. We`re all profilers, and blather just gets in the way. Ask a cop. I guess I first noticed this ominous disconnect in boarding school with its smiley molesters.

I`d go so far as to say, if you`ll forgive me for saying anything, that a good bit of American exhibitionism may be attributed to television. Who is so aggressively nice as television anchors? It`s almost restful when the camera returns to some haggard war correspondent and we get a break from the shiny anchor. I think television disturbs the peace and has become a public nuisance in that its overarching effect is to heighten anxiety and commend violence as entertainment. There is, to me, a collective passive aggression in most television that both reflects and contributes to a corresponding passive aggressive wave in society.

Exhibitionism in strictly psychiatric terms is sexual. I`m sure the kind of aren`t-I-great showing off I`m talking about has a sexual component, but it might be better described by the charge the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police recently brought against a Harvard professor. They charged him with loud and tumultuous behavior. " They dropped it after complaints it had been racially motivated. But I like the language, archaic as it is. It reminds me of a trial I once covered in Rhode Island. A housewife was charged with being lewd, wanton and lascivious " when it was alleged she had corrupted the morals of a less than reluctant delivery boy. The proceeding looked pretty lewd, wanton and lascivious to me; the housewife looked bewildered. But you get the drift. The psychiatrists are being a lot more technical than I am when I use the term exhibitionism. In the Oxford Dictionary their definition is secondary; mine " extravagant behavior that is intended to attract attention to oneself " "is primary.

I know my own face starts to hurt when I forget to stop smiling. I call this a loud face. A little smarm goes a long way.

I once told an unrelenting smiler that I liked her face better in repose. I don`t think she ever spoke to me again. Now that I think of it, that was kind of like a weekend break.

TV has taught us to be on. " Being on is exhausting for everybody. I think too many of us are on "politicians, media people, professional celebrities. And I think we`re emulating them. We want to be on, too. It has made us all jittery, as if we`re waiting for the other shoe to drop, as if we know the other guy is a phony, which doesn`t say much about us, either. I think we`re all exhausted by the theater of it all, the theater of public life, of government, of the media, of celebrity worship. We worship people who own more houses and airplanes and yachts than anybody needs. What does that say about us? I guess it says we want to be boring like them.

Instead of our dialing up television, the medium has dialed us up. We want to be on American Idol or a reality show. We want to show our stuff. We want to get rich by being on. On anything. By putting the other guy on.

And maybe we`re getting a bit tired of each other, too. Who wouldn`t? After all, what is our idea of reality? Do we even know any more? If we think those reality shows are reality, what does that say about our grip on it? What does it say that we idolize public nuisances, people who habitually disturb the peace?

What do I mean? Here`s a thought: Did we really think we could just keep on building houses we didn`t have good enough jobs (or even enough jobs) to pay for, and that constituted an economy? Yep, I think we did, and that`s probably not as real as most reality shows.

Talk has gotten us into a lot of trouble. There has been entirely too much of it. If we just dialed it down and watched each other`s faces for a while we might learn a great deal more than we do from the incessant yak of television. We need a vacation away from the land of yak. We need to rediscover the healing properties of silence.

Silence is the matrix for speech, not the enemy. If we keep attacking the fabric of silence, speech will become meaningless, and that is what is happening on television. Speech is becoming meaningless. That is why we no longer trust the media or the politicians. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. A whole box of chocolates is not as good as single bonbon. One bon mot is better than 24 hours of bon mots.

To cheapen silence is an attack on civil society. The loudmouths in restaurants and other public places are an offense against the quality of life. I`m sure we have always had loudmouths. But I`m not sure we have ever celebrated them quite as much as television has taught us to do. Writers and musicians who do not appreciate silence create junk. Silence is essential to poetry, fiction, music and film. Immoderate yak is a pollutant, an environmental crisis threatening our supply of silence. Silence is essential to sanity, to rational decision-making. Yak is bluff. Do we want to be bluffed?

I have been asking myself where things go when they enter my ear. Some of them drop off a cliff. No sooner do they enter my ear than I feel them like lead pouring into my shoes. Others cause rebellions or anarchy. Others sit down at my inner table and behave themselves, like guests at a Regency manor.

Then I ask myself what the anchors and the pundits and the ambitious generals do when they enter my inner sanctum "by invitation, mind you "and I have decided that they behave badly. They work the room, they take up too much space, they elbow the elderly and infirm, they ignore the children, they forget to wash their hands, they talk too much, too loud. And they have bad breath.

Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.  

His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal Latté first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.

He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.